The myth of belonging masks our insecurity

2 Comments

The myth of belonging masks our insecurityEarlier this year the organisers of the rock music festival, the Big Day Out announced a ban on national flags being brought into the venue. In the wake of a small, transplanted Balkan war at the Australian Open, it seemed like a reasonable idea. Soon, though, a 'popular' outcry erupted. How dare anyone ban the carrying of the Australian national flag – especially on Australia Day?

The usual populists chimed in on the matter, and before long the poor organisers were back pedalling faster than a politician who discovers a room occupied by Brian Burke.

When the big day finally arrived, a substantial number of young concert goers decided to take their flags and to wear them, perhaps as a sign of both pride and disobedience.

It would be easy to mock those who think this was a rebellious act, the approval of a conservative PM seemingly having escaped their notice. But that is not the point here. I wondered why young people would even want to take national flags to a rock concert. There was no boxing match between the Violent Femmes and the Killers, no basketball game between Tool and Eskimo Joe. This was not a sporting event.



In the days after the Big Day Out, it was pointed out that the Australian flag had become a symbol akin to gang colours – something used aggressively to distinguish between insiders and outsiders, us and them, 'proud Aussies' and other, dubious, untrustworthy types. The flag had become a potent symbol of belonging.

There is much to ridicule and despise about the aggressive flag-waving of the Cronulla riot and Big Day Out kind. There is also a sense of belonging being sought, beneath this aggression, that is most interesting. Many young Australians are seeking something more than the shallow consumerism presented as the meaning and purpose of life.

There are only so many needs that can be satisfied through the market. There are other, deeper, needs that people are now beginning to see cannot be met by the cold, utopian vision of the free marketeers: needs for love, respect, acceptance and tolerance.

Like so many other aspects of contemporary life, the realm of social interaction is undergoing profound changes. Older forms of belonging are weakening, while others—often negative—are strengthening. New manifestations of belonging—such as on-line communities—are fitfully and tentatively being born. Identities are in a state of flux.

Sources of belonging are now undergoing profound change. Class identities are weaker, and are challenged by new identities defined by gender, sexuality, ethnicity and even consumption patterns. Changes to work patterns, the underlying structure of the economy, and the present political ascendancy of capital have reduced the importance of unions. The main political parties ceased long ago to offer opportunities for active involvement that fostered political allegiances. A meaningful sense of belonging is vulnerable to the dominant ideological tenet of the day—that market relationships should determine all human relationships, and that individualism should in all cases dominate over communal solidarity.

The myth of belonging masks our insecurityThis absence of belonging is sensed as a significant reason for the rise of the evangelical churches, for instance, which provide a sense of shared community. It also helps to explain the rise of what we might call 'disproportionate emotion' which has emerged when, for example, a 'celebrity' dies or some sort of 'tragedy' occurs—witness the deaths of Princess Diana and Steve Irwin. Public reaction in these cases revealed a desire to share emotion in a way that our atomised society does not normally encourage. Unfortunately, in these cases the power of this desire seemed to break down a sense of proportion, and this is in turn fed, and was fed by, a media schooled in exaggeration and cliché.

John Howard has benefited from the politics of exclusion and belonging. His manipulation of the myths of Australian history, in particular the myths surrounding Gallipoli, of racial politics, the discourse of 'elites' and 'battlers', has tapped into this barely understood craving for belonging. A society in which belonging and a sense of community are tenuous is an insecure society. In such a society people are susceptible to the kind of fear campaigns that have dominated Australian politics over the last decade.

Nationalism is one of the oldest sources of 'large group' belonging. It is also one of the most dangerous, as the history of the 20th century should remind us. Even the young are not immune, as the Big Day Out flag controversy revealed. The challenge for the progressive side of Australian politics is to look beyond flag-waving populism for belonging that is inclusive and not divisive.

 

 

submit a comment

Existing comments

It was the missing of the underlying point of this article by the ALP in the issue over the refugees on theTampa that has made them accomplices with John Howard's in his consciously waged war against terror.
I once heard a very incitedful analysis of the word " fear"
F - false
E - expectations
A - appearing
R - real
I challenge readers to do something similar with the word "terror".
Noel Will | 04 April 2007


The Australian flag is a symbol of unity and national pride, not something to hide our insecurities.
STEVE | 07 December 2010


Similar Articles

Pacific Solution sends wrong moral message

  • Andrew Hamilton
  • 02 April 2007

Immigration Minister Kevin Andrews justified his decision send the 83 Sri Lankan asylum seekers to Nauru, on the grounds that it was necessary to send a message to other would-be illegal immigrants. It is like a teacher beginning class by beating a couple of boys at random in order to discourage others from playing up.

READ MORE

Don't make the poor pay more to fight climate change

  • Michael Mullins
  • 02 April 2007

While the climate change debate has largely focused on how a levy might hurt the economy, the St Vincent de Paul Society has raised concerns about the financial impact on households on low incomes or living in disadvantaged communities.

READ MORE

We've updated our privacy policy.

Click to review